Friday, March 23, 2007
Crowds go Crazy for Knut
Was there ever so much fuss made over a creature so small? I'm talking of course about Knut, the three-and-a-half-month polar bear cub who's just made his media debut at the Berlin Zoo.
We arrived with more than half an hour to spare and already the brown bear enclosure was ringed by cameras, satellite trucks and journalists by the hundred. And scampering like monkeys over the climbing frame behind me -- their only chance of a glimpse of Knut -- scores of school-children chanting: "We want Knut! we want Knut!"
Bang on 10.15 a.m., just as the zoo had promised, there he was. A flash of white fluff in the distance. The crowd heaved a collective "Aaah." Into the enclosure walked Thomas Doerflein, the keeper who's spent the last three-and-a-half months looking after Knut. And padding devotedly in his footsteps, Knut himself -- white, fluffy and impossibly cute.
Knut's path to stardom was anything but smooth. His mother, Tosca, was once a performing bear in the former East Germany's state circus. Now one of five polar bears at the Berlin Zoo, she rejected Knut and his brother at birth and left them on a rock to die. The zoo took action and decided to raise the cubs by hand, though Knut was the only one to survive.
Knut's daily diet is a mixture of milk and chicken puree. Bath-time involves hand-washing and a healthy dose of baby oil rubbed all over to moisturise the skin. Knut has his own long-eared teddy bear, goes to sleep each night under photographs of his parents and has a particular penchant for ripping up newspapers. His keeper, Thomas Dorflein, sleeps in the same room and sometimes plays him Elvis songs on his guitar. Spoilt he may be, but Knut obviously adores Dorflein. In the hour and a half we had to see him, Knut never strayed far from his keeper and stopped often for a cuddle and to lick his hands and face.
Animal rights campaigners were quoted this week as saying it was wrong to treat a bear like a baby. One even called for Knut to be killed, though he later retracted his comments. Andre Schuele, the vet at the Berlin Zoo, disagrees. Knut will gradually be weaned off his keeper, he says, and it'll only be a matter of months before he prefers the company of bears to humans. And in a year or two, he added, Knut will be introduced to a nice young female and will make lots of small Knuts.
That's still some way off. For the time being, you can be guaranteed that children will take the place of the cameras around Knut's enclosure. And though they won't be able to give him a cuddle, there's plenty of Knut merchandise on sale that they can take home with them instead. I know I did.
You can watch my report here.
-- From Diana Magnay, CNN International Producer
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